HE COULD SEE HER down by the water. Framed, it would be a pretty picture, an image with a lasting impression. What right did he have to wander into it and mess it all up? He didn’t have any right being here, period. But a promise was a promise. And sometimes you had to see things through to the end.
Beyond her stretched blue. Beautiful and peaceful, this blue. Someday, maybe, he would have that kind of peace. But not now, not today. There was so much he still had to do. So much to make up for.
He’d make this brief.
His fingers remained tight, carrying it for her. He’d pass it along, say a few words, then leave.
Children’s voices echoed with laughter. An engine on the water roared to life. He passed a couple, blond and sunburned and calling it a day. He nodded as they greeted him with a friendly, “How’s it going?” All around him were signs and sounds of a life. Of life.
He looked out over the water again. She noticed him and started approaching from the dock.
Beyond her, all that blue.
One day, maybe, there’d be a place like this for him. He’d like to have a place like this. Nothing big. A small lot by the water. As long as he could spend a lot of time outdoors. And as long as the sounds of happiness filled the streets.
They would one day. He knew that in his heart.
She called out his name. He lifted his hand and smiled.
These are the words of a dead man, and I write knowing I won’t be around to see them read. Beauty’s all around me here, and yet I know I don’t deserve it. Words mean nothing and apologies nothing, but that’s all I can offer so I’m going to try in some way. I just don’t know quite how to yet.
LET’S TRY THIS ONE MORE TIME, the man thought with excitement.
He wore black pants, a gray shirt, and a black cap that read “Security.” On the side of his arm was a patch with the insignia of SARC, a nearby security service. He glanced at his watch. Nine forty-five.
It’s about that time.
He brought the shopping cart to the front of the store. Only one person staffed the checkout aisle—a girl in her late teens. Other employees roamed through the sporting-goods store—a chubby, forty-something guy near the firearms section, a college-aged guy probably assigned to stocking, another tall and lean fellow he’d passed in the aisles. But the husky, short-haired woman behind the customer-service counter was the one he wanted to talk with.
“Excuse me. Are you the manager?” he asked with eyebrows raised and a friendly but courteous smile. They always responded to that smile.
She nodded. “What can I help you with?”
She had a heavy Louisiana accent and big arms for a woman. Surprisingly muscular. He wondered absently how much she could bench press.
“My name is James Morrison, and I’m from SARC. The service you guys work with?”
She nodded, looking as though she knew the service and wondered where this was headed.
He glanced at the name tag on her blue button-down shirt that was the standard uniform for the sporting-goods store.
“Vicki, I’m wondering if I can show you and the rest of the employees here a number of photographs of some guys that have been robbing stores in the Pineville area. We feel this store might be in their sights and wanted to make sure you and the rest of your staff have ample knowledge of who they are.”
Vicki nodded with a “Sure, why not?” shrug. “Y’all should’ve come on a weekend when I have more staff. I only got three working tonight.”
The man nodded, bringing out a black three-ring binder and putting it on the counter that separated them. “There was another robbery yesterday.”
“Where? I didn’t hear about one.”
“At a Harman’s over in Marksville. They’ve kept it quiet because a lot of guns and money were stolen.”
“You worried we might be next?”
He nodded. “Yes, I am This will only take a few minutes, and we can make sure to get out of your hair before too long.”
Vicki looked at her watch.
“It’s almost closing time anyway. Monday nights are generally slow, you know. The weekend’s when everybody does their shopping. You get occasional crotchety types who want to try out a new handgun or are looking for fishing tackle or something like that. It’s been pretty dead tonight.”
The stout, short woman walked over to a half-door that let her out into the aisle. Her gaze landed on the briefcase he carried. It was a black canvas bag. She looked again at the patch on his shirt, then glanced at his eyes, then asked him to follow her as she sauntered to the front of the store as though she didn’t have a care in the world.
He watched her go, a smile barely crooking one corner of his mouth.
Sean, my man. This is going to be the easiest one yet.
They got the guns, he thought. But we got the numbers.